At the heart of the metropolitan county of Merseyside is Liverpool, once a by-word for urban decline, it has reinvented itself in recent years, a tranformation crowned by its role as European City of Culture in 2008. The city boasts two magnificent cathedrals, both of which should be on the itinerary of any visitor to the city, and football fans are sure to want to visit the grounds of Liverpool or Everton. There are many organised walks and tours covering all aspects of city life and the Mersey ferry is a favourite way of admiring the city’s transformed waterfront. Aintree is the home of the world’s most famous steeplechase, the Grand National, and Merseyside has another major racecourse in Haydock Park at Newton-le- Willows.
Outside the city, Merseyside has its fair share of grand houses and rural attractions. Notable among these are Croxteth Hall and Country Park, Knowsley Safari Park and the National Trust’s Speke Hall. The Trust also has the care of a stretch of coast at Formby, an internationally important site for wildlife and home of the famous Formby red squirrels. The whole stretch of coastline from the Mersey Estuary to north of Southport, is a haven for birdwatchers. Southport itself is a delightful spot that combines Victorian elegance with all the amenities of a popular seaside resort and a generous supply of culture.
The metropolitan county of Greater Manchester comprises the districts of Bolton, Bury, Manchester, Oldham, Rochdale, Salford, Stockport, Tameside, Trafford and Wigan. Manchester, like Liverpool, has been transformed over the past few years, and is notable for many fine buildings; some, like the Town Hall and the Cathedral, have long been city landmarks, while the new generation of buildings include Trinity Bridge and the City of Manchester Stadium. The city’s museums and galleries are the most numerous and diverse outside the capital, ranging from the Museum of Science & Industry to the John Rylands Library and the Whitworth Gallery. In Salford, the Lowry is a stunning cultural complex overlooking the Manchester Ship Canal.
Visitors to Manchester do not have to travel far to be in the country: Tameside, for example, offers country parks, woodland, moorland and reservoirs. It was the 3rd Duke of Bridgewater who commissioned the first canal in the country, linking his coal mines with Manchester and Liverpool. By 1850, 4000 miles of canals transported 30 million tonnes of freight throughout the country each year. They have long since ceased to fulfil their original role, but many stretches have been restored to become a splendid leisure amenity. Among the finest of the attractions outside the towns are Bramall Hall, a wonderful old ‘magpie’ house near Cheadle Hulme, Haigh Hall and Country Park near Wigan, and Hall i’ th’ Wood near Bolton.
Still basking in the afterglow of its role as the European City of Culture for 2008, Liverpool also glories in its status as a World Heritage Site, so designated because it provides “The supreme example of a commercial port at the time of Britain’s greatest global influence”.
The most striking embodiment of that time is Albert Dock, which forms part of the largest group of Grade I listed buildings in the UK. This painstakingly restored masterpiece of Victorian architecture was designed by Jesse Hartley and built to hold the biggest sailing ships of the day. It was opened by Prince Albert in 1846, but by the end of the 19th century steam had largely replaced sail and the Dock was in decline. It finally closed in 1972 and stood derelict for some years. 1984 saw the start of its rebirth, and now the Dock is among the country’s most popular heritage attractions with some four million visitors a year. Behind the giant cast-iron columns and huge brick facades are dozens of visitor attractions, shops and retail outlets, restaurants, cafés, offices, TV studios and luxury apartments.